Age at primary infection with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium in the chicken influences persistence of infection and subsequent immunity to re-challenge.
Beal RK., Wigley P., Powers C., Hulme SD., Barrow PA., Smith AL.
Salmonella enterica remains one of the most important food-borne pathogens of humans and is often acquired through consumption of infected poultry meat or eggs. Control of Salmonella infections in chicken is therefore an important public health issue. Infection with S. enterica serovar Typhimurium results in a persistent enteric infection without clinical disease in chickens of more than 3 days of age, and represents a source for contamination of carcass at slaughter and entry into the human food chain. Data presented indicate a profound effect of age at initial exposure on the persistence of infection and a lesser effect on the development of effective immunity to re-challenge. The percentage of birds positive for Salmonella was high until 8-9 weeks of age, regardless of the age at which the birds were infected (1, 3 or 6 weeks). The birds infected at 3 and 6 weeks of age produced a more rapid and higher antibody response (IgY and IgA) than those infected at 1 week of age, but in all cases infection persisted for a considerable period despite the presence of high antibody levels. Following a re-challenge infection with S. Typhimurium, all three previously-infected groups had fewer bacteria in the gut, spleen and liver compared with age-matched birds receiving a parallel primary infection. However, the birds primary infected at 3 and 6 weeks of age cleared infection more rapidly than those infected at a younger age. Interestingly older-primed birds had higher specific T lymphocyte proliferative responses and specific circulating levels of IgY antibody at time of re-challenge. Although birds initially infected at 1 week of age and those that were previously uninfected produced a stronger antibody response following re-challenge, they were slower to clear Salmonella from the gut than the older-primed groups which expressed a stronger T lymphocyte response. The data presented indicate that clearance of Salmonella from the gut is age-dependent and we propose that this relates to the increased competence of the enteric T cell response. The findings that Salmonella persists beyond 8-9 weeks, irrespective of age at exposure, has implications for the broiler sector and indicates the need to remain Salmonella free throughout the rearing period. Moreover, the re-challenge data demonstrates that infection at a young age is less effective in producing protective immunity than in older chickens. This feature of the development of protective immunity needs to be considered when developing vaccines for the broiler sector of the poultry industry.